What is it about?

The rollercoaster adventures of parenting three kids, dealing with disability and mental health - and discussing disability discrimination and how to tackle it.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Invisible People

Last Friday I went to an ad agency. They're preparing a brief to bring disabled kids "out into the open" in a community campaign run by a major corporation. I might be able to tell you more about that later. But for now, let's stick to my visit to the add agency. I was there with a friend who is also a mother of a child with a disability (we both work as volunteers for ACD NSW). The creative team of this big agency wanted to get a bit of an insight of what life is like as a parent of a disabled kid.

Well, it was kind of difficult to explain to three very creative and clever young people what that's like. Most of the reference points are those where you make comparisons with other parents, and since none of these young people are at that stage in their lives, it was kinda tricky.

It's tricky anyway. You want to give people an idea of how hard things can be. But at the same time make it very clear that our kids are neither charity cases nor burdens. That the burden is the way society responds to their disability. That the true disability is the exclusion by society. The negative language used to refer to people with a disability – and it's all so casually done that people don't even realise how hurtful this language can be. You know what I mean. Terms like "the spastic" or expressions like "don't be a retard" or reducing people to their disability 'the blind boy" or "the spina bifida girl".

So I made one comparison which I often make, one younger people seem to be able to relate to.

I explain that disability is natural. It is one of the many facets of humanity. It is just one of those things that make up diversity of people. Yes, people come in all sorts and shapes. White, black and in-between coloured brown. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, agnostic. Liberal, Conservative, Socialist, Green. Gay, Straight, Transsexual.

Isn't it funny how we have come to accept all those differences with so much more tolerance, especially amongst younger people? Many of them don't give a fiddlers fart about people's sexuality (indeed, many are prepared to experiment themselves with more fluid identities) or political background or religion.

It is, thankfully, no longer ok to use derogatory language to describe people of a different religious or ethnic group than yourself.

Why then, is it still ok to use hurtful language to describe disabled people?

It is, thankfully, no longer ok to ask black people to entre a building through the back door or basement loading dock.

Why then, are wheelchair users supposed to be grateful there even is a back entrance?

Why are ethnic jokes no longer ok, but disabled jokes are?

I think I know partly why. There are many reasons, but there is one that stands out for me. And in the context of the add agency, I feel the need to write about this.

We have become used to seeing people with a different skin colour. Our society has become mixed, we grow up together, got used to each other, realised that we were just all simply people. As "the other" become visible, they become known, and the barrier starts to break down.

Do you remember your primary school books. Pictures full of little blonde, blue eyed kids with traditional names. And then, slowly, slowly, appeared the brown and black faces with different names. One by one. From the token black guy to a mix. My kids' books have Asian, African and European faces all together.

But no disabled kids.

They are just not there. They don't seem to exits. They are invisible.

No wonder then, we get stared at when we go to the shops. No wonder people feel it's ok to make stupid comments, use vile language. No wonder people haven't got the first clue of how difficult it is to get decent services and equipment.

People don't know about us.

Because we don’t exist.

Honestly. We don't.

Or tell me, when was the last time you saw a disabled character in a children's book (and I mean just there, in the background. I'm not even asking for a prime role here).

When was the last time you saw an add on TV with a disabled kids - excluding those for charities and awareness-raising. I mean, an add for MacDonald's. Or breakfast cereal. Or toilet paper for heaven's sake. You know those cute kids, happy faces that seem to look at you everywhere in major department stores or your local supermarket? Ever seen a face with Down syndrome on them?

People with a disability are invisible,

If we want things to change, people to care, we need to become visible. We need to be seen, so we can be heard.

So there is a challenge to all add agencies. Show humanity in all its diversity. Show us.


Mark Weber said...

You indicated that your 2 boys with HSP have an as yet unknown recessive version.

Free genetic testing will be available either late this year or early in 2010 for rare recessive forms of HSP. To learn more, go to the Spastic Paraplegia Foundation's web site at http://www.sp-foundation.org either late this year or early in 2010. I expect an announcement by then.

Anonymous said...

Ordinary people; ordinary lives

That is the slogan of the Physical Disability Council of NSW.

My view is that people with disability are simply people. With bits that don't work.

The fact that society in general does not recognise people with disability as people - people who are able to make a valuable contibution to society - is due to ignorance, fear and - often the "medical model" of disability that says that disability is something that is broken and needs to be "repaired".

While you are dealing with issues concerning disability, why not have a look at the things my mob are doing: the Physical Disability Council of NSW. Our website is www.pdcnsw.org.au
come and visit anytime.

Claire said...

It is happening slowly. Here's a few I can think of:

There's a kid who uses a wheelchair in Postman Pat.
In Arthur, there's a kid who is blind.
The main character in The ghost of Grania O'Malley by Micheal Morpergo has CP.

Good Luck with the new project.

Claire said...

I've just thought of an advert too, it's for visa and is awsome

Heike said...

Yeah, Claire, it's a cool add, but the guy in the add is hardly disabled... Not quite what I had in mind... Still, I can appreciate it.

Big brother, Little sister. said...

Heike, great, honest post. I hope the ad agency can show us!